Saturday, February 13

Real Life Diagnostics: Working With Dialogue

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Four

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through March 11.

This week’s questions: 

1. Does this dialogue work? 

2. I want Mark to come across as a little aggressive with no time for polite conversation with women. Does he? 

3. I also want it to show that Pauline is not the type of person to take any crap from anyone. Does it?


Market/Genre: Speculative

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Friday, 17.03.2006-09:00

Pauline Grainger arrives at Keldthorpe Farm and first meeting with Mark Bishop



“Hello, we’ve gorra visitor,” Bill said, nudging Mark and nodding towards a dark blue Ford Focus parked outside the farmhouse. Mark left the milking shed and strode across the yard towards the tall smartly dressed woman who had just approached the front door.

“Who are you looking for?” he yelled

“I’m here to meet Mr. Bishop,” she replied, looking a little dubiously at this scruffy man with mud-stained jeans.

“Well, you’ve found him. What do you want?” Mark demanded

“I’m Pauline Grainger you tax accountant. I believe my office told you I would be coming today.” She said looking him straight in the eye and offering her right hand.

“You’re joking!” he gasped, ignoring the outstretched hand.

With an icy glare, Pauline replied, “Mr. Bishop, I assure you, I am not joking.”

“But… but you’re a woman!”

“How very observant, Mr. Bishop,” the temperature dropping dramatically, and not all due to the cold north wind blowing across the farmyard. “Now if you don’t mind I’d like to review your current accounts with you and make some suggestion about tax savings.”

My Thoughts in Purple:

Friday, 17.03.2006-09:00

Pauline Grainger arrives at Keldthorpe Farm and first meeting with Mark Bishop
I don't know if this is for the diagnostic’s benefit or part of the book (it comes after the date, so I suspect the book) but this reads more like a script than a novel. Novels don’t “set the scene” like this.

“Hello, we’ve gorra visitor,” Bill said, nudging Mark and nodding towards a dark blue Ford Focus parked outside the farmhouse. Mark left the milking shed and strode across the yard towards the tall smartly dressed woman who had just approached the front door.

“Who are you looking for?” he yelled

“I’m here to meet Mr. Bishop,” she replied, looking a little dubiously at this scruffy man with mud-stained jeans.

“Well, you’ve found him. What do you want?” [Mark demanded] his dialogue shows him demanding, so you don’t need to say that in his tag.

“I’m Pauline Grainger you tax accountant. I believe my office told you I would be coming today[.” She] comma, lowercase s [said looking him straight in the eye and offering her right hand.] You don’t need to tag every line of dialogue, only when it’s unclear who is speaking. Perhaps just have her offer her hand.

“You’re joking!” [he gasped] Same here. Also, gasp is a sound, not a manner of speech, ignoring the outstretched hand.

With an icy glare, [Pauline replied,] She speaks, so we know she replied. You don’t need the tag “Mr. Bishop, I assure you, I am not joking.”

“But… but you’re a woman!”

“How very observant, Mr. Bishop[,” the] period, capital T temperature [dropping] dropped dramatically, and not all due to the cold north wind blowing across the farmyard. “Now if you don’t mind I’d like to review your current accounts with you and make some suggestion about tax savings.”

The questions: 

1. Does this dialogue work?


Yes and no. The words spoken work fine, but there are too many dialogue tags and they’re getting in the way of the story. With only two people speaking, it’s clear who is saying what. You only need to tag when it’s unclear who is speaking, or you need to show how something is said. Let’s look at this passage without all those tags for an example:
“Hello, we’ve gorra visitor,” Bill said, nudging Mark and nodding towards a dark blue Ford Focus parked outside the farmhouse. Mark left the milking shed and strode across the yard towards the tall smartly dressed woman who had just approached the front door. 
“Who are you looking for?” he yelled. 
“I’m here to meet Mr. Bishop,” she replied, looking a little dubiously at this scruffy man with mud-stained jeans. 
“Well, you’ve found him. What do you want?”

She looked him straight in the eye and offered her right hand. “I’m Pauline Grainger you tax accountant. I believe my office told you I would be coming today.”

“You’re joking!”

“Mr. Bishop, I assure you, I am not joking.” 
“But… but you’re a woman!” 
“How very observant.” The temperature dropped dramatically, and not all due to the cold north wind blowing across the farmyard. “Now if you don’t mind I’d like to review your current accounts with you and make some suggestion about tax savings.”

Without the extra tags, this reads much smoother, yet it’s still clear who is saying what and how.

(Here’s more on dialogue tags) 

2. I want Mark to come across as a little aggressive with no time for polite conversation with women. Does he? 

He comes across as a misogynistic jerk, so maybe. He does appear aggressive, but rude and dismissive of women, not someone with “no time for polite conversation” since they’re not having polite conversation. She came there for a business meeting he was informed of, and he’s rude to her. If that was your intent, it's working, but if you wanted him more rough around the edges, he's gone too far.

3. I also want it to show that Pauline is not the type of person to take any crap from anyone. Does it? 

It does. She ignores his rudeness and gets right to business without letting him ruffle her. I can tell through her speech and manner that she’s not letting his comment bother her. 

One thing you might want to brush up on is dialogue punctuation. If the tag is part of the sentence, it’s lowercase, but if it’s a new sentence, you’d use a period and uppercase. For example:

“Well, that didn’t work,” Bob said, frowning. (Correct, as Bob said refers to the dialogue)

“Well, that didn’t work.” Bob said, frowning. (Incorrect, as Bob said, frowning isn’t its own sentence)

“That didn’t work?” Bob said, frowning. (Still correct, as Bob said refers to the dialogue)

Bob frowned and said, “Well, that didn’t work.” (Technically correct, but most advice would say cut the tag)

Bob frowned. “Well, that didn’t work.” (Correct, as it’s two different actions. Bob frowns, then he speaks)

“Well, that didn’t work.” Bob frowned. (Correct, as frowning is not a manner of speech, but an action Bob does after he speaks)

“Well,” Bob said, frowning, “that didn’t work.” (Correct, since the dialogue and tag are all part of the same action)

“Well shoot,” Bob said, frowning. “I guess that didn’t work.” (Correct, since these two elements are two different actions)

It can be tricky sometimes, but think about what the dialogue tag is referring to, and if it’s its own action or part of another action. 

Overall, the dialogue is working, and it will read much stronger once you eliminate some of the unnecessary tags and streamline the text a bit.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress, not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

4 comments:

  1. he beginning date and line of explanation should have been taken out before I sent it. My apologies. They are there to help me keep track of the date and what each scene is about. In my original draft I ended up with a 9-day week and wanted to avoid this second time around.

    Thanks for the useful suggestions. I know I have problems with tags and beats, still trying to sort them out in my mind. I have started taking excerpts from other author and rewriting them by hand and taking them apart to help me understand them better.

    I do need to tone down Mark's reactions somewhat, thanks for pointing it out.

    As usual, your comments are spot on and give me great food for thought.

    Thanks a lot

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The fact that you know you have issues with tags and beats and are focusing on correcting and strengthening them puts you further ahead than a lot of people ever get to. (I'm this way with setting. I utterly suck at it and have to work very hard to strengthen it.) Good luck to you!

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  2. Good idea, keeping track of in-story dates so you don't end up with too many days in the week. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, and it becomes even more difficult further in to the story when Mark finds a machine that allows him to travel in to the past, so I have scenes from the 21st century banging up against ones from the 19th century.

      It became quite confusing keeping track without inserting the dates in the draft, I was zipping backwards and forwards through the text an regularly consulting calendars from the different years.

      Delete